A conspiratorial, character-driven, and fantastically creative tale of high-end liquor and outlandish melodrama.

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Inside the Flavor League

A satirical yarn traces the roots of a secret society monitoring and fiercely protecting the sanctity of alcoholic beverages.

At the core of Moser’s (T-Bull and the Lost Men, 2013) novel is a determined coalition of do-gooders self-charged with fighting the “unremitting evil in the marketplace of potable alcohol.” Calling itself the Flavor League, the 14-member consortium, founded to “bring justice to the murky, sleazy, down-and-dirty world of wine and spirits,” seeks to right the wrongs committed by wealthy and powerful entities seeking to control alcohol consumption and its social sophistication. The book provides a fictional history of the league’s inception in the 1980s and its development as a progressive entity through the activity of two integral members who met in 1987: San Franciscan wine tasters Margot Sipski and Brewster Hotte, the latter being the group’s divorced, oddball, freelance-writing 14th member. Margot is busy with an escalating career as a wine authority while Brewster, son of a dead vodka magnate, pines for her attention even with a tarnished reputation. The league emerges as a formidable presence in the libation landscape, primarily since operatives use a secret, long-acting powdered weapon called “MLII,” which strips targets of their ability to taste and smell, rendering them useless in the liquor marketplace. Befitting his two eccentric protagonists, Moser’s tone is comical and plucky, moving swiftly through the pair’s adventures. But in the author’s cleverly imaginative, semifuturistic world of spirits being exploited for sheer avarice, banks hiring senior astrologers, and vodka becoming the currency of kings, nefarious business practices are bound to churn. The stakes increase in this unconventional story when Brewster hears of his brother Jock’s new product line marketing things like a watered-down alcoholic beverage aimed at minors and children: “the ones who dream of having a drink.” The league knows Jock’s business is a prime candidate for MLII but hesitates to act. Still, Brewster and Margot employ an aggressive plot to stop Jock’s genetically modified vodka production project as other groups, like Univod, a powerful, politically connected vodka establishment, also come into the league’s cross hairs. Bartenders and sommeliers may particularly get a kick out of the frothy “alcoholic coup” bubbling at the droll novel’s climax; others might enjoy this lightweight entertainment with a stiff drink and an open mind.

A conspiratorial, character-driven, and fantastically creative tale of high-end liquor and outlandish melodrama.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9847941-4-0

Page Count: -

Publisher: Venial Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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